The Rise of the Artist.. or, Ayn Rand’s Music Industry

November 15, 2009


This graph is from a recent entry over at the Times Labs Blog called “Do music artists fare better in a world with with illegal file-sharing?

“This is the graph the record industry doesn’t want you to see… The most immediate revelation, of course, is that at some point next year revenues from gigs payable to artists will for the first time overtake revenues accrued by labels from sales of recorded music.

The article’s logic and data parsing looks sound, though its analysis is confined to the UK music industry only. It validates an opinion I’ve held since the beginning of the demise of the music industry: that the demise would favor the artist and frown on the record men.

This will only be the case, however, for artists who were not only releasing a consistent stream of quality product, but whose careers were centered around their ability to perform. The traditional record industry was founded on the premise that artists want to make music and not negotiate deals, find distribution channels, or haggle over merchandise profit margins. And this remains true. Which means the industry in its current state favors the resourceful, talented, motivated artist, and incentivizes the remaining lot of musicians to get their act together and take the reigns of their career.

We lose, of course, the lazy but undeniably brilliant musicians who need the maintenance, guidance, and hand-holding of a great manager or producer to bring their talent to the masses. These gems are the ones we should mourn, if only slightly, as the music world shifts toward an “Atlas Shrugged” reality where the suits can no longer hop a free ride on the talent.


Digital Needle

December 28, 2007


This is a great look at someone who scanned his records in order to listen to them. A nice look at how LPs really work, making digital technology seem more like magic.

In other digital music news, Warner Music Group finally dropped DRM. Sony is the last major label gripping tightly to its restricted-use mp3 format. Godspeed.


December 2, 2007

Football Mouse

Amazon is giving away 1 Billion mp3s during the Super Bowl.

Great, right?! After all, an earlier post of mine touted how on-point Amazon was in unrolling the first true iTunes rival. (Read about it here.)

I’m sure you can sense that there’s a caveat, and it is this: you’ll have to buy 5 Pepsi products to get 5 codes for each MP3. So really, they’re not free at all. You’re getting a single mp3 for the price of 5 bottles of sugar water. Let’s say a bottle of Pepsi is $1.50: In accordance with this Super Bowl promo, you will get 1 mp3 (valued at $.89 on Amazon) for 5 Pepsi’s ($7.50.) Assuming you wouldn’t have bought Pepsi in the first place, this is by no means free.

In a stupendous twist of carbonated irony, it’s cheaper to buy 8 mp3s on directly than it is to get 1 from this promotion. Whether or not you do either is another story…

More or Less

November 19, 2007

Too Much Information

It goes horzontal, it doesn’t go deep. When you have 10,000 songs on your iPod, do you have one that really sticks in your heart for longer than two weeks? How about two years?” — Meryl Streep

This statement is worth thinking about for an afternoon. I don’t want to belabor the already overexposed point that the internet has led many to suffer from ‘information paralysis.’–All the information in the world at our fingertips, yet no one can focus on just one bit for more than a few seconds. Nothing gets done, but everything gets looked at.

On the one hand, all this technology creates a bloated excess of consumption. This fact is especially obvious in mp3s and the sheer amount that people own and download. But at the same time, this digital revolution offers the unique opportunity for music fans to streamline. To Simplify. To narrow Focus.

Look: you no longer have to own 9 shitty tracks for 1 good one. Buy the good, leave the rest. There’s no point in owning shit, or even mediocrity. Not anymore! This is something LPs, or even CDs, couldn’t offer. This ability to download only the good stuff should encourage artists to think long and hard about the albums they choose to release. The Art of the Album–track listings, liner notes, cover art–will shapeshift and writhe in the coming years, but it will be preserved so long as artists spend time making sure they don’t release crap.

You could get away with being a lazy band in the past–after all, a few hit singles were reason enough to shell out 15 bucks (at least!) for the whole album. The rest of the tracks didn’t need to be great, as many album-owners came to realize. Artists cannot hide behind the jewel case anymore.  Shite will float to the top and be skimmed by these newfound consumers and the iTunes 30-second preview.

This is another way that the digital revolution, and the downfall of traditional labels, has fueled artistry–it now behooves you to create amazing music, lest your album be pilfered through and left for dead while you wonder where your next meal comes from. Greatness will be rewarded now more than ever as the white-noise of MySpace collects the amateurs. After all, superficiality, by definition, stretches thin.

It goes horizontal, it doesn’t go deep. Don’t be horizontal, and for God’s sake don’t buy it.

Amazon Aims At Apple’s Advantage

November 12, 2007

Amazon has launched its new digital download storefront, Amazonmp3. Surprisingly, it’s great. Here’s why:

1.) The mp3s are not copy-protected.

2.) They are actually mp3s, not a proprietary file format–so they can play on any mp3 player.

3.) They’re cheap: Some albums are as low as $7.99, with individual songs as low as $.89.

4.) The download software plugin required is quick and easy to install, and makes downloading mindless.

5.) The selection is great. Most, but not all, of the major labels have signed up for the DRM-free download format.

I suggest getting in on the action while it’s still new. With DRM restrictions lifted (as they are at I’ve been much more open to making the shift toward downloading albums instead of buying cds. CDs are striking me as more and more antiquated: a circular disc that needs to be physically spun to work. Its form is as primitive as the wheel (and matches its description exactly), even though its operation is technically digital. Mp3s are purely digital, and not linked to a physical form (but is still shy of live music in this regard). Though I used to view them as ethereal and too impermanent for this reason, the tide is starting to turn…